KAMPALA — If Uganda?s recently tabled Anti-Homosexuality Bill becomes law, Frank Mugisha and other individuals found campaigning for gay rights will face the choice of going to jail or leaving the country.
Mugisha heads Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), a leading sexual rights advocacy group that could soon be classed a criminal organization.
"I have never really considered moving out of Uganda. But if I cannot work within the country, then I will have to leave," said Mugisha.
The bill has baffled legal experts who read it as the product of an over-zealous Evangelical community that is clueless about both Uganda?s constitution and international law.
But for the bill?s proponents, chief among them Ethics and Integrity Minister James Nsaba Buturo, who has repeatedly alleged that there exists an organized, western-backed plot to recruit people into homosexuality, the law is necessary to confront a national emergency.
Homosexuality is spreading, Buturo argues, and if people like Mugisha aren?t stopped they will continue to lure impressionable youths into their sinful lifestyle and thereby threaten the perpetuation of the Ugandan people.
"Who is going to occupy Uganda in 20 years if we all become homosexuals? We know that homosexuals don?t reproduce," Buturo said last year when announcing plans to table the bill.
In one of its most curious provisions, the draft law calls on Uganda to nullify any international treaty or convention that is inconsistent with the spirit of anti-homosexuality.
"You cannot as a country say we will nullify all the treaties we have ratified in the past," Sylvia Tamale of Kampala?s Makerere University Law School told AFP.
For Tamale, the bill?s composition reveals an absence of qualified legal input and an unhealthy amount of input from people like Martin Ssempa, a prominent Evangelical pastor and internationally known anti-gay crusader who has confirmed having contributed to the bill.
"It would be political suicide for any Ugandan politician to vote against this. Leaders will have to ask themselves, do I listen to my own people, or ... to top down orders coming from New York and the UN," he added.
Ssempa seems to relish the criticism hurled at him by western rights groups, but he is concerned the proposal will create a fissure within the Evangelical Church.
"The western church is going to find itself increasingly at odds with the African church and find itself in a situation where there is a split like in the Anglican Church," he said.
Ssempa told AFP he was disappointed by a recent statement by American mega-Pastor Rick Warren, who delivered the convocation at US president Barack Obama?s Inauguration.
Warren did not mention the Anti-Homosexuality Bill specifically, but said he and his wife ended their relationship with Ssempa, "when we learned that his views and actions were in serious conflict with our own".
Mugisha is an unlikely candidate to be at the centre of such politically charged debate.
From SMUG?s humble three-room office in a Kampala suburb he explained he never wanted to become a political advocate.
While in university, he volunteered as an undercover health researcher, finding out which clinics could treat certain conditions and where gay men could access the things necessary for safe sex.
He distributed the information on-line and through a small support group he founded.
When SMUG?s leadership learned about his work, they lobbied him to get involved.
At first reluctant, he eventually gave in, and was appointed chairperson of the group in 2007.
He smiled when recounting his earlier health work.
"These young boys, they didn?t know anything about being protected," he said, half-laughing.
If the new bill had been in place at the time, Mugisha?s attempts to promote safe sex could have qualified as a crime. "Aiding and abetting homosexuality" attracts seven years in prison.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »